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Slovak - Fun In Learning

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Artist: Slovak

Album: Fun In Learning

Label: Stop/Eject

Review date: Feb. 23, 2004

The work ethic of Michigan’s microscopic DIY labels such as We’re Twins, Scratch ‘n’ Sniff, and the barely-two-year-old Stop/Eject is admirable, if not proof that realizing the interesting and often unpredictable results of simple ideas just takes a little elbow grease. “You can do this too. Do it” the CD Jacket to Slovak’s Fun In Learning admonishes.

The simple idea behind the chaos of Randall Davis and Jason Voss’ Slovak is to take dozens of CDs and ruin them, stabbing and slashing them with magic markers, razors, tape, microwaves (huh?) until they are marred almost to the point of unplayability with laser-skipping scratches. Selecting appropriate discs that work together, Davis and Voss play off the scratched CDs through a mixer to produce individual tracks that are then layered to create stuttering mash-up collages of sound and noise that sounds like your CD player is going bonkers. Some individual tracks are frozen on a single flickering sound fragment that can’t move to the next, and even those that work around a whole theme, such as the orchestral opening piece “Izzard’s Curse,” arrive so slowly to dismiss the need to get to the end of a musical phrase, any musical phrase. Slovak tests your patience, your level of comfort, and generally fucks with your ears, using amorphous remnants of musical elements. Like a step backwards from DJ sampling and scratching, Fun In Learning cleverly consumes your safe pop music without making it recognizable.

I’ll bet you knew this part of the review was coming, the part where I try and salvage with some intellectual mumbo-jumbo what some might dismiss as unlistenable dreck – good idea, but only good in idea form. In fact, I will posit that there are some really interesting things that happen once the ear becomes accustomed to the skips and gets over the natural panic in trying to unscramble the distorted songs. Eventually, the chirrups that annoy you take on melodic resonance, until it becomes clear that the heart of this mess is not the frustrating hilarity of the botched soundtrack, but rather the permutations of the scratches themselves. By the time one reaches the middle of the album’s track list (somewhere around “By Hooker or Crook”) some kind of order emerges, in both the listener and the grinning sound artists as they play with volume levels and the superimposition of tracks and skips for what could be called audio slant rhymes.

But, even Slovak refers to the project as “just for fun,” and the real value in experiencing this eclectic d.i.y. project is in its flagrantly laid-back attitude. Getting over the harshness of the noise takes some practice, not unlike a strained back learning how to relax enough for a massage to take full effect. If Slovak’s goal were so pretentious as to reinvent the process of listening, sound, and music, they’d alienate their listeners, and Fun In Learning would be that mess to avoid. As it is, I think they just want us to let go.

By Joel Calahan

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